While all of the recent peace deals between Israel and Muslim nations have come under fire for one reason or another, the most recent accord with Morocco has attracted a bevy of naysayers from the highest echelons of US political circles as well.
“We realistically think the administration will find a good rationale to preserve this,” Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita told Axios on Tuesday about US recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty claims over Western Sahara.
“We hope the next administration will continue this positive dynamic and nourish what we have built because it was done for peace. What we have here is a package which was signed and the first commitment that everyone made was to defend, promote and upgrade this package,” he noted.
According to Axios’ Barak Ravid, who reported from a trilateral US-Israel-Morocco summit in Rabat to finalize the political normalization process, Jerusalem fears that if US President-elect Joe Biden reverses the recognition move, “the rest of the deal could fall apart.”
Haaretz reported on Tuesday that Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi has cast the normalization deal with Morocco as part of the Abraham Accords that saw the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan sign peace agreements with Israel. When US President Donald Trump announced the deal on Twitter on December 10, he framed it in much the same way.
However, that’s not how things appear to Rabat, which has long maintained underground connections to the Israeli government as well as engaged in high-level negotiations.
“We were pioneers of the relations with Israel. For us, it is a big event, but we are not building from scratch. … It is about renewing the traditional contacts and building something which is lasting,” Bourita told Axios. “Everything is normal now – we do not plan to go only halfway here.”
The Polisario Front, which is recognized by the United Nations as the legitimate representative of the Saharawi people who are native to Western Sahara, has also urged Biden to rethink the decision.
“It is not part of Trump’s real estate to give to Morocco, he could have given them one of his golf properties, not Western Sahara,” Kamal Fadel, who represents the Polisario Front in Australia and New Zealand, told Radio France International on Saturday. “We are hopeful that US President-elect Joe Biden, who I understand as a man of integrity and very familiar with the legacy of colonialism in Africa, that he will have a positive influence on self-determination in Western Sahara and would reverse this decision.”
The UN promised in 1991 to hold an independence referendum in the territory after Polisario fought Morocco to a standstill. The group declared a Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in Western Sahara in 1976, just months after Morocco occupied the territory on the heels of departing Spanish colonial forces.
Widespread Internal Dissent at Trump Deal
However, Trump’s move hasn’t just been criticized by the Saharawis: leading US diplomatic figures have similarly railed against the decision.
The day the deal was announced, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), one of the most conservative members of Congress and the present chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, blasted Trump for “trading away the rights of a voiceless people.”
Trump’s own former national security adviser, John Bolton, who is known for his hawkish neoconservative politics, urged Trump not to throw away “decades of carefully crafted US policy” in a December 15 op-ed in Foreign Policy.
“In making his rash decision, Trump consulted neither the Polisario Front – which has long represented the Sahrawis – nor Algeria and Mauritania, the most concerned neighboring countries, nor anyone else,” Bolton wrote. “This is what happens when dilettantes handle US diplomacy, and it is sadly typical of Trump’s nakedly transactional approach during his tenure.”
Two days later, James Baker, who served as US secretary of state between 1989 and 1992 under then-President George H.W. Bush, and later as the UN secretary-general’s envoy to Western Sahara from 1997 until 2004, attacked the deal as a “cynical decision” that endangered the entire Abraham Accords mission in his own op-ed in the Washington Post. He also noted the regional effects, from pushing Algeria further away from the US to creating a new conflict zone in which Daesh’s* West Africa franchise could find room to flourish, would be almost universally harmful to US policy.
*Daesh (also known as ISIS/ISIL/IS) is a terrorist organization outlawed in Russia and many other states
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Qatar had signed a peace agreement with Israel.